e-learning projects that went BAD!

We all learn from our mistakes, what are some lessons learned or projects that went bad you want to share with us?

For me I had a case where I prospected a client to develop a large learning course. They were interested and wanted to move forward, so they asked for a training plan. Without signing anything I developed an elaborate 40 page training plan that they took and ran with. Never heard from them again! Was a good lesson learned. What about you guys?

20 Replies
Debee Stanton

The thing I see most often is scope creep. Regardless of the documentation and signoffs, we're always at the whim of senior managers who feel it's their obligation (birth right, even!) to make last-minute changes to (only) the most critical, time-sensitive projects.

I don't have a solution. But I feel a little better for venting.

ICAO Training and Learning

Debee Stanton said:

The thing I see most often is scope creep. Regardless of the documentation and signoffs, we're always at the whim of senior managers who feel it's their obligation (birth right, even!) to make last-minute changes to (only) the most critical, time-sensitive projects.

I don't have a solution. But I feel a little better for venting.

_____________________________________________________

HI DEBEE

I totally understand and have the same issue with 90% of my projects!

I have developed a solution: part of the sign off is NO CHANGES after a certain milestone or date. It works, but I have to fend them off a few times and remind them they signed to the no change clause. They bounce off like tennis balls a few times then give up. I usually tell them I am in another project at the moment, but if you sign me in for a new project, we can redress the issues from the old one.

Works like a charm. Now, if they are a one time client and I don't have other projects to do, fine, I grin and bare it for my reputation. Reputation is the most important thing.

How have others been handling scope creep here?
Rich Johnstun

Most recently I tried doing some branching differently than I had before. Everything worked great as long as you followed the instructions. The problem is that I left the ability to not following directions and as a result, if you didn't follow the instructions, learning was not recorded. Yeah, it blew up our support desk with upset end users.  It was quickly fixed once I was told about it. It was my own fault for not testing all possible button clicks. 

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Rich:

My biggest challenge is managing the expectations of my clients, which does relate to scope creep. A big part of that is finding out what it is they want, even if they don't know. In a nutshell, I try to show them three or four examples of courses so that we have something tangible to go back to, if their expectations are beginning to get out of line. (Resist talking about how the cool things that you COULD do once the contract has been signed.) Basically, I'll remind them "you guys wanted to spend X amount, and we agreed that for that amount we could create something along the lines of Y (Y being a course that I showed them at the beginning of the process).

If you are working in the US, you've got to have a tight contract that spells out who is doing what and what the deliverables and timeline are. If you've gotten burned a few times and haven't read Performance Consulting by Dana Robinson or Flawless Consulting by Peter Block, you might consider picking them up.

Contracting is so darn important in e-learning, something most of us learn the hard way.

Scott Hewitt

Hi Rich.

I find that scope creep is a issue and is project team creep. You start out with a nice small defined project team and then as you are about to agree design, scripts etc the project size doubles. We've included that in our contract documents as that has caused a problem for us in the past. Not allowing enough time is always a possible problem - it doesn't matter how experienced or great you are! If you are building custom work you can always get the time estimate wrong. 

I wrote a blog post last week with 5 tips for e-learning project managers that I wrote based on my experiences. http://www.reallearner.co.uk/5-top-tips-for-elearning-project-managers/

We are always changing our development process - making it easier to understand and to develop.

Great post title!

Cheers,

Scott

Judith Blackbourn

It always seems that I'm well into my project, or near the end, before I realize what else I could have done to improve the outcome.

My current project was one of those seemingly simple projects -- develop an elearning self-paced course for a software product.

Several things have tripped me up:

  • Client didn't have any tools for creating eLearning and wanted me to pick one.
  • I had to start design and development while learning Storyline.
  • Client didn't have a specific idea of what they wanted -- colors, style, interactions, etc.
  • Client didn't have time to train me on the software or even on the industry.

You may have seen an earlier post from me asking how I stop tinkering! That was during the time the client was still looking at each version of my design layout and picking it apart. At that time, no specific deadline was discussed (I know, I should have seen that red flag).

Now that I'm on lesson 3, the client realizes that I didn't learn the basics of the software or the industry. So far, I've been documenting the interface, as they requested, but keep asking them about the tasks they want learners to know.

So, I could go on forever (you probably think I already have), but I'm hoping to somehow come up smelling like a rose at the end!

Adrian Stokes

Judith Blackbourn said:

It always seems that I'm well into my project, or near the end, before I realize what else I could have done to improve the outcome.

My current project was one of those seemingly simple projects -- develop an elearning self-paced course for a software product.

Several things have tripped me up:

  • Client didn't have any tools for creating eLearning and wanted me to pick one.
  • I had to start design and development while learning Storyline.
  • Client didn't have a specific idea of what they wanted -- colors, style, interactions, etc.
  • Client didn't have time to train me on the software or even on the industry.

You may have seen an earlier post from me asking how I stop tinkering! That was during the time the client was still looking at each version of my design layout and picking it apart. At that time, no specific deadline was discussed (I know, I should have seen that red flag).

Now that I'm on lesson 3, the client realizes that I didn't learn the basics of the software or the industry. So far, I've been documenting the interface, as they requested, but keep asking them about the tasks they want learners to know.

So, I could go on forever (you probably think I already have), but I'm hoping to somehow come up smelling like a rose at the end!

The last sentence made me lol  Fingers crossed for you Judith!
Sheila Bulthuis

Tarek's inital post hit home for me - I sometimes have a hard time determining when "selling myself and my ideas" ends and "giving away free consulting" begins.  I am pretty sure a 40-page plan falls in the latter category.  =)   But there are times when the potential client is incrementally asking me questions, asking to see more samples, asking how I would approach XYZ...  I want to be helpful, make a good impression and begin to build a relationship, but on the other hand I think some of the value I provide as a consultant is in the more detailed answers to those questions, and I'm not in the business of working for free!

I sure would love any specific advice you all may have about how to handle best handle these types of situations...

john faulkes

 One of the most heart-felt values held by small operators such as me (and I suspect many of the forum members), is that you can charge money when you have delivered something. Many clients expect this as well. This is not altogether unreasonable, but if there is much scope creep and clients seeking a lot more help mid-project for free, it can get difficult.

Large business consultancies have a very tough approach to this sort of thing, which is often not open to our sort. They will always negotiate a substantial up front payment, if they can. Also they will want to charge by the hour and be very sticky about intellectual property, etc.

Small operators have a special attraction in terms of flexibility, economy and usually a can-do attitude. Being one, I have a few survival tips.

Firstly, all the extra stuff you do, note it and price it, even if you never pass it on to the client. If you have had to do a lot of extra stuff, you may be able to get at least a modest price increase; you'll have a note of what you have done as ammunition.

Secondly, take the initiative. Why not reflect back the extra stuff they need, concur with the necessity of it and suggest a time of mutual convenience to sit down and 'really help them develop it' (for a small fee of course).

Thirdly, if you are designing something for them, you are more a service provider than a product retailer. Thekey thing about service provider- client relationships is that they rely on trust. Balance up the extra stuff they're asking you for (which is a pain) with the likelohood of them continuing to use you next time (which one day you might need as a lifesaver).

Fourthly, unless they are technical experts, do not take pains to explain clearly to them what is easy and what is a real pain in the backside to achieve, If they ask 'is there any way you can do....', don't say 'oh, that's easy', but 'Hmm, (nodding!) I see what you want. I think I might make that work. let me get back to you asap.'

Fifthly, if asked for a 40 page plan on spec, suggest to them that instead you first come up with a one or two page set of objectives and very high level overview, so that they can assess 'if you're thinking in the right way'. How they then treat that will give you an indication of whether they'll go any further.

Lastly, remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Remember that the client is buying you and the trust they have that you can meet their needs, not necessarily your ideas. Share ideas with them freely. If they are corporate people, they are so busy fighting their email onslaught that they will forget them again.

ICAO Training and Learning

Sheila Cole-Bulthuis said:

Tarek's inital post hit home for me - I sometimes have a hard time determining when "selling myself and my ideas" ends and "giving away free consulting" begins.  I am pretty sure a 40-page plan falls in the latter category.  =)   But there are times when the potential client is incrementally asking me questions, asking to see more samples, asking how I would approach XYZ...  I want to be helpful, make a good impression and begin to build a relationship, but on the other hand I think some of the value I provide as a consultant is in the more detailed answers to those questions, and I'm not in the business of working for free!

I sure would love any specific advice you all may have about how to handle best handle these types of situations...


Hi Sheila, that is a great question. Before I became a self-employed contractor I worked for a very small eLearning company. The pressure to produce was immense and I learned more in that one year with that small company than I did in the previous 4 years about eLearning and client relationships. My boss at that time said: "Tarek, give the client anything they want except when it comes down to actually producing content". Clients often don't know much about eLearning and generally seek some guidance before they spend cash. 

If they are about to put money down, they will most likely do it with the designer that builds the most rapport and assists them with eLearning concepts. They are also probably getting information from multiple designers and want to choose the best designer from their needs in the long run. It may seem clients have you as their only source but they are by no means monogamous so the more we give as potential designers the more we may get in return. 

After 6 months of this client calling me for questions without any commitment which seemed a bit annoying at the time, they finally accepted a contract with me that involved a lot of money. It was well worth it.

Ps...Once I developed the course for the client, I provided the source files. Most companies feel uncomfortable doing this because they feel the client won't need them any more. That couldn't be farther from the truth because:

1) The client probably wont have the eLearning tools to work on that project to begin with. 

2) The client will come back to you as it builds trust and is part of the ongoing rapport building. Thus the cycle continues. 

All the best,

Tarek

Sheila Bulthuis

Good points Tarek, and you've given me a couple of things to think about - thanks!

I absolutely agree with you about source files.  In my opinion, the client is entitled to them, as they own the work you've produced for them.  (Not always true, but most of the time - at least in my experience.)  Besides, I don't want to "force" anyone to give me work just because I've held their files hostage!  =)

Travis Thompson

Tarek Rifaat said:

 

Most companies feel uncomfortable doing this because they feel the client won't need them any more. That couldn't be farther from the truth because:

1) The client probably wont have the eLearning tools to work on that project to begin with. 

2) The client will come back to you as it builds trust and is part of the ongoing rapport building. Thus the cycle continues.

Speaking from the perspective of a staff ID...

1) Not always true.  We demand contractors build with the tools we use (Presenter, Storyline, Captivate) so that we can edit and maintain them ourselves.  We can build anything you can, we just don't have the staff to keep up with demand.  We also require the source files as part of the upfront agreement.  If you put a course together for us, it is likely I went back in over the next few months and tweaked the poop out of it.

2)  Very true!  If you are difficult about giving us the source files, we will likely not work with you anymore.  If you are open with what we desire and provide quality work, we will come back to you again, and again, and again, and...

Sheila Bulthuis

Travis,

I'm interested to know why you "tweak the poop out of" (loving that phrase) the courses within a few months of them being completed.  Are the courses you're getting not really hitting the mark, so you have to kind of "fix" them?  Or does your content change a lot so you're updating for that reason?  I'm just curious, because it's always helpful as a consultant to know more about what the clients go through!

Travis Thompson

Sheila Cole-Bulthuis said:

Travis,

I'm interested to know why you "tweak the poop out of" (loving that phrase) the courses within a few months of them being completed.  Are the courses you're getting not really hitting the mark, so you have to kind of "fix" them?  Or does your content change a lot so you're updating for that reason?  I'm just curious, because it's always helpful as a consultant to know more about what the clients go through!


Sheila,

I'm trying to maintain my SLA of responding to questions within one year...

Your assumptions are absolutely correct.  Both of those reasons are the two primaries.  I work for a high technology company, so the rapidly changing nature of the industry means courses become outdated quickly and must be revised to reflect the arrival of newest widgets.  That may be industry-specific and not always applicable for many designers/developers.

The second reason is that we get sub-par courses.  Contract designers are often extremely template-driven.  They want the company-standard font, colors, etc. up front and don't stray from those.  We get a lot courses that just look like internal PowerPoint presentations, which makes for boring and ineffective eLearning.  I assume these designers have been burned in the past for straying from the corporate theme and are playing it safe (some clients want that).  In these cases I'm often tasked with going back and redoing their entire course, keeping only the content they gathered and organized.